Spurs have forgotten who they are – it’s easy to see why the fans call for Pochettino’s return
Spurs boss Antonio Conte flies back to England on Sunday. There’s a very decent argument that he might as well not bother.
There’s been a Bill Nicholson quote going round my head this week. Not that one. Another one, just as good and if anything more relevant to Spurs’ current predictable predicament.
“We must always consider our supporters, for without them there would be no professional football. It would be better to have more fans watching football the way they like it played, rather than have a few fans watching football the way we would like it played.”
He was usually right, was Bill, and even his more famous “the game is about glory” maxim perhaps doesn’t hit quite as hard as this one right now. Because it’s this one that best sums up precisely where and how Spurs have lost their way.
What Spurs have done in attempting to punch through and join bigger clubs at the top table is admirable in many ways. It’s always worth remembering that there shouldn’t really ever have been a Big Six. Spurs lack the traditional power of Liverpool or Manchester United, the financial heft of Chelsea or Manchester City, or the timing of Arsenal. They shouldn’t be here, but they are. Just about clinging on.
At what cost, though? Right now, it’s surely too high. Spurs have in essence sacrificed everything else for relentless pursuit of top-four finishes. Nothing else matters. Whatever words to the contrary may be uttered, it is demonstrably the top-down policy of the club and has been under a series of managers – and yes, that’s a series that includes Mauricio Pochettino, whose return feels ever more certain yet would offer few guarantees beyond a lift of the mood that envelopes the club right now and an instant improvement if the style of play if not the outcome. Spurs fans know and understand this, but are increasingly coming round to the idea (some never needed to) that it’s nevertheless a goer.
Spurs no longer bother with either domestic cup. They are unlikely to mount a title challenge. They will surely never again enjoy a run to the Champions League final like the 2019 absurdity. It raises questions about what, precisely, the point of this club is. As a business, it makes sense. As a football club, not so much. It’s the conflict at the heart of every big football club now, but nowhere is that more apparent than Spurs.
It is almost impossible to see how the trophy drought ends. A hugely presentable chance in this season’s FA Cup was tossed away in midweek in favour of ensuring Spurs were at full tilt for this league game at Wolves. Ah! Well. Nevertheless,
Let’s deal with the game. Spurs weren’t entirely appalling. For the first hour they were demonstrably the better side, hit the woodwork twice and would have merited a one or two-goal lead. Then, in a reversal of the season’s early trend, that decent first hour was followed with an abysmal closing half-hour in which Wolves first established a foothold and then gradually seized control. They looked much the likelier winners by the time Adama Traore struck late on.
It’s a grim and damaging defeat. But not yet terminal. Spurs still have every chance of finishing in the top four. But so what? It would be an achievement of course, but not one that merits this all-encompassing pursuit surely. Not one that justifies Wednesday night’s surrender at Bramall Lane.
And certainly not one that merits the abysmal football that is deployed in service of the only thing that matters.
Both Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte were brought in as “serial winners” who could take Spurs to that next step of winning trophies. But they couldn’t, because they are not managers who can operate in Spurs’ world. They can keep Spurs from sinking back to mid-table, but apparently only by making everyone and everything miserable.
There is plenty of talk about ending that trophy drought, but the actions scream far louder. Spurs limped meekly, gutlessly out of the FA Cup in midweek. It’s the fourth year in a row they’ve gone out in the fifth round. Norwich, Everton and Middlesbrough are the three other teams to take care of Spurs at that stage. Because most journalists are in their 40s or older, they still continue to describe Spurs as a team synonymous with the FA Cup, which must be baffling for anyone under 35 who will have no memory of Spurs even appearing in a final.
Spurs could right now be a home game against Blackburn away from an FA Cup semi-final, and they don’t have even one extra league point to show for pissing that opportunity directly up the wall.
Few Spurs fans can now seriously expect a 1-0 first-leg deficit against a crushingly mediocre Milan side to be overturned in the Champions League last 16, even with SERIAL WINNER Conte back in the dugout.
It all just feels so futile. And it’s why the calls for Pochettino to return are so understandable. Spurs wouldn’t necessarily be better. They probably still wouldn’t win any trophies. They would probably still be a punchline.
But at least it would be on their own terms. Spurs fans don’t demand trophies – which is just as well – but do expect to be entertained. At least Pochettino’s return would create the prospect of some watchable football. At least they wouldn’t then be sacrificing even that to get precisely nowhere further down the road. At least the fans would be watching football the way they like it played.
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